YouKnowIGotSoul Interview With Michael Keith of 112 (Part 2 of 2)
YouKnowIGotSoul caught up with one fourth of the legendary r&b group 112, Mike Keith, and in Part 2 of the interview discussed his reservations about releasing a solo album, being the center of attention in releasing an album, his friendship with the Notorious B.I.G., being caught up in the East Cost/West Coast beef, and his current job as a vocal coach.
YKIGS: I’ve always wondered, from your time on Bad Boy and your time on Def Jam, was there any, from a creative standpoint, did the labels ever kinda push you in a certain direction, the way you should make an album? How much creative control did you guys have, and did you notice a difference between the labels?
Mike: Well, the differences between Bad Boy and Def Jam, Bad Boy pretty much in the beginning, told us what we needed to do. They pretty much molded us into who we needed to be. Def Jam allowed us to be who we always were. Def Jam was like, it was more of a, it was a bigger machine, than being in Bad Boy where it was more hands on, it was more Puffy and on top looking down on us, cracking the whip, “I need this, I need that, I need this.” Where Def Jam it was more like we gonna give yall a ton of money, now go make it happen. That was the difference in philosophies as far as Bad Boy and Def Jam was concerned. What was the other part of the question?
YKIGS: I was just wondering if the labels, and I think you pretty much touched on it, if they ever kinda pushed you in a certain direction when making the music, like try this, or make this type of song, or anything like that?
Mike: The thing about that is, even though Puff would suggest, he would strongly suggest we would go in a certain direction, and more than likely we would go in that direction. But for the most part, as long as it was that, Puff didn’t really mind what were singing or how we were singing, he gave us a lot of creative control which at the end of the day, it was him that said this is hot, we would use this or not. He did listen to it, and he did really respect our opinions as far musicians, and he kinda let us do what we do. Def Jam pretty much said whatever formula you were using over there, whatever gonna make us a hit, do whatever it is. So that’s pretty much what happened.
YKIGS: Eventually after the group broke up, you were able to go onto to release your solo album “Michael Keith.” For those who haven’t had a chance to hear the album, what did you try to do with that album and what did you have on that album, just tell us a little about it.
Mike: Well that album really was about a relationship that I had with a girl. All those songs were based on something that I’ve had did with this particular girl. “No More Tears” was me basically proposing to the girl. Long story short, we’re not married, we’re not engaged, so that’s what happened with that. But all of those songs were inspired by my ex fiancé at the time. “No More Tears” was basically the back and forth she and I had about me not committing to her and all of this other stuff, about me being this r&b dude and doing the r&b thing, I didn’t want her crying anymore. So basically that’s where “No More Tears” came from. “Love” was one of my favorite records on the album and basically I wasn’t really talking about anybody at that point, that song was more so about the actual, I was having a conversation with the actual emotion of love. If you could personify love and make it a person, that’s kind of like what I was doing with that song. It was more of a conversation about love. “Off Up In This Bedroom” was pretty much, it was what it was. “Shawdy Red,” a lot of what happened in “Shawdy Red” really did happen. It was really a conversation that I had between myself and this young lady. That’s pretty much what that whole album was about. A lot of what happened on that album really did happen, and I needed a way to get it out of my system so I wrote about it. So me, anybody that knows about me knows I’m a very private individual. I don’t go out unless 112 has something we need to do or there’s something that I just have to do. But other than that I’m a homebody, I stay in the house, I really don’t do a whole lot of extracurricular outside things, and that goes for my personal private life, all that stuff. So for me to do that album, it was really challenging for me to do, because of the fact that I was letting a lot of people know what was going on. All my music I did it had some kind of inspiration to it, or I tried to be, and I really want people to listen to the cd and try to find inspiration in it and also be therapeutic as well. So if I can help people in a subliminal kind of way, then it’s cool.
YKIGS: Cool, I like that.
YKIGS: How was it taking the lead on an album? I mean as part of a group, you had a different type of role, but now you were the main focus. What was that like for you?
Mike: For me, it may have been a shock for the world, but for me it was just me waking up every day, it wasn’t really that big of a deal as far as the actual performance. The drawback and the reason why I bugged out so much is because this was my debut album, this was my first shot at letting the world know what was going on with me as far as musically is concerned. I was so critical about these records and I really…it almost got to a point where I almost derailed the album myself because I really was so gung ho about making sure everything was right. I’m a perfectionist at heart and the people that was around me at the time really had to make me pull back from everything I was trying to derail. I really did not want this album to come out because I wasn’t really confident in myself as far as an overall solo artist. I knew I could sing, but as far as being a solo artist, it’s so much stuff that comes with it, the limelight is directed towards you, if you are overweight they are going to talk about it, if you say the wrong thing it’s directed towards you. It’s like all of this stuff I was dealing with, so I really didn’t want to put an album out because of that, and I really didn’t want to let my 112 fans down as well. I was thinking about 112 even at that point, I didn’t want the brand to go south because of something that I did. I was real critical about doing it, I really, really, really had reservations about doing it. But I manned up and put it together.
YKIGS: What eventually made you decide to reconcile with the group and get back together to put together a new project?
Mike: Aside from the money? *Laughs* Well I think overall, I think I just missed the dudes. Me knowing these cats going on about 23 years that I’ve known these dudes, I just missed them. I just really miss hanging out with those dudes, being on the stage, see if we could retain some of that old feeling. There is no other explanation; it’s just being around 112. It wasn’t even about the name, I could do without the name, it’s cool but at the same time it’s eh. But those dudes are my only friends, like I said before I’m very private, I really didn’t have any friends outside of 112. As a matter of fact I don’t have any friends outside of 112. So those were the dudes that I hung out with, those were the dudes who knew the secrets about me, all my good, all my bad. Those were the ones who were around me through most of it. It was time for me to realize I did it, I did the solo project, I’m proud of what I did, I feel like I could have done better but I was proud of it, I don’t think I disrespected 112 in any kind of way. I don’t think I disrespected the brand in any way. It was a good time for me to move on, and return to what I think was natural. And being a part of 112 was natural to me. The world knows that I’m able to do a solo album, they’ve heard my voice now, they know who I am as far as a musician now, so I’m content with it, I’m cool with it. I just want to keep this going, so I think that was really one of the main reasons why I returned, because I just felt like had we left the way it was, it would have been a detriment to those who were 112 fans. We didn’t leave on a positive note, we just left. It wasn’t really like…we sung our last song, and we did this farewell tour. It was just like “aiight.” I didn’t want it to go down like that. I didn’t want the world to think of us and say well they just disappeared. I never wanted to go and do something without finishing, so that was one of the main reasons why. So I had to dig deep in myself and say I can’t leave like this, so that’s one of the main reasons I reconciled.
YKIGS: Is the group still together?
Mike: The group is always going to be Q, Mike, Slim & Daron. Whether or not we perform, whether or not we do albums together, that’s up to the man upstairs to predict. I would like for it to happen, I am hopeful that it will eventually happen, but as of right now, we are all just in the wind at this point man. At one minute we are a group and we are all performing together, and then the next thing we are all soloists. So I’m not really sure as far as the performing aspect of it, I’m not sure, but that’s what going on with everybody. But in my opinion, and in my heart, we will always be 112, it will always be Q, Mike, Slim & Daron, and that’s the best answer I can give as far as the group.
YKIGS: On a little bit of a lighter note, if you could just share with me, what would you say is the craziest thing a fan has ever done to you, maybe while you were performing, out in public, anything?
Mike: The craziest thing that I remember is, right off hand, is the fact that this girl in DC named her son Q-Ron, which was Q and Daron’s name, we couldn’t believe it. But here the baby was, and his name was really Q-Ron. But that was the craziest thing, I mean I love my artists, and the people that I love, I love them to death, but I’m not gonna name my kids after you! Yea that was just, that was just real crazy to me.
YKIGS: Wow, that’s pretty freaky!
Mike: Yea, that was deep, she said it and I was like wow, that’s just about as deep as it can go. I can see if you named the child Daron, or like when Barack won the election and it was just a slew of babies named Barack all of the sudden, I could see that. Or if you named the kid Quinneth like after one of us, but to put two of our names together, and to make one name out of it, that’s just crazy to me. That child is walking around with the name Q-Ron.
YKIGS: What was your favorite period of time being in the group? Maybe the stretch of time during when you were working on a certain album, or maybe the time when recorded a certain album. What period would you say you had the best time with the group?
Mike: Recording, recording the album. We always did the same, we would record the album, we would tour, and then we would all feel it. After we had toured the world, we would do U.S. tour, and then we would go overseas, and then we would come home and do some spot dates here and there, but you could feel the momentum and then we all just looked at each other, and it was time for a new album. That was pretty much my…you could set my life to a clock. That’s pretty much how automatic we were and how distinct we were and how the kinship and the relationship we had at that point. It was really creepy how close we were as far as knowing what each other was thinking at the same time. I think the best time for me was definitely touring on the tour bus, and going to different schools and colleges and partying with the girls and hitting them clubs late at night and drinking, and just being with your homeboys just chillin. I think that was really a fun time for me, and I think that’s the most memorable time, the time that I enjoyed the most was the actual recording process because we fought, we argued, we laughed, we were just really bonding at that point and we put together a great album at that point. That was like a real fun time for me.
YKIGS: Looking at the recording process from another way, what would you say as an artist is the most difficult part of putting together an album and recording it?
Mike: As we got older, and our music tastes started to evolve, I think that was a more difficult time for us as far as putting an album together because you had four different opinions, whereas back in the day, it pretty much was like if one dude felt that way, we all felt that way. But as we got older and our tastes evolved into different ways, we wanted to implement those things into the 112 sound. The problem with that is, I like rock and roll music, Slim is into really hardcore hip hop, Q was listening to gospel, and who knows what Daron was listening to. It was kind of hard to put all of those different flavors into one pot and make it something that everyone could enjoy. So I think that was the most difficult time, trying to make sure nobody was stepping on nobody else’s toes, that we made sure we were sensitive about everybody else’s opinion about all the music and made sure that didn’t put our own agenda ahead of the whole 112 machine. Around the fourth and the fifth album is where thinks started getting a little weird.
YKIGS: If you could share a memory, maybe your best memory of working with the Notorious B.I.G. or just being around him at all, do you have on that stands out?
Mike: Just being around him, just being around this dude. A lot of people didn’t realize how silly this dude was. If you weren’t around you really didn’t see how humorous he was and how jovial this guy really was and how much he cared for his people. The people that was around him, they looked at this dude like he was really the king of NY. Being just that dude, he was very gregarious, he could make people just come around and just want to be a part of what he was selling, they’d want to be a part of it. It was serious, it wasn’t game, it wasn’t anything that nobody concocted, no image, no gimmick, it was real life, this dude just became real serious when it was time to become B.I.G. and he was just…you just had to be around that dude. At that point, we weren’t really anybody at that point. We were kinda getting to a point where people could recognize us, and for him to be like “I like them dudes, them my niggas right there!” It was just real cool because at that point, he was “Flava In Ya Ear,” he was “Juicy,” he was big, so for him to be like “I fucks with 112, them my dudes,” it really just made us feel good about that, we definitely appreciated the fact that homeboy did what he did. He didn’t have to. He definitely pushed us to sing on a lot of songs that nobody else would. I will forever be grateful for that man. Just him period, that’s who he was.
YKIGS: During the whole east coast/west coast beef, how did you and the group feel during that time, and did the public ever perceive the group in a certain way, were you grouped in at all? How did that all go down?
Mike: Yea man they hated our fucking guts man! *Laughs* They was like “We don’t care that yall sing r&b, and we don’t care that yall from Atlanta, yall are siding with BIG, so we hate yall too!” We had many situations as well man, we had many a time when we felt like we were going to have to fight our way out of something in order to get our way out of a city. But thank God nothing got really so gangsta that somebody’s life was in danger. Of course there were times…we were actually still performing out in L.A. when all of that was going down, because 112 had developed such a fanbase out in L.A. that you would be crazy trying to promote an album without going out there. So everybody in Bad Boy was like “Yall make sure yall be careful and don’t be going out and don’t be bringin them little girls back to the hotel!” They was really just making sure that we understood that it was real out there. But we was like we good, we know some people out there, we good, don’t worry about us. We got a fan base and all this other stuff, don’t worry about us. At the time, a lot of the Bad Boy artists just stayed out of L.A., but 112 was one of the few groups or few artists who actually covered for Bad Boy, so we was like we good. Yea they was hating in certain areas, but at the same time, we wasn’t going in those areas, so we were good. It was that crazy, it really got crazy. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t times when we felt like we had to take our little smooth r&b image and just throw that to the side and just show everybody what being from Atlanta was really about. But it was times when things got out of hand, but like I said, thank God we came from it without really an issue. But it got gangsta, they didn’t care anything about us being r&b, they didn’t care anything about us being from Atlanta, if yall was part of Bad Boy, yall was public enemy #1. That’s how it was back in the day, we didn’t shy away from that, those were our people, those were our folks, so we were good. Plus one of our managers was a crip anyway, so we were good! *Laughs*
YKIGS: I gotta ask you about my favorite song you did with B.I.G. and one of my favorite songs overall, off of his second album the song “Miss U,” just give me some background on that song if you could.
Mike: When we did that record, actually when we did that record I think BIG had passed. When we did that record, it was between that and the old Teddy Pendergrass “Miss You” version, but we just decided to go with the one that was more hip hop oriented and we just wanted to put that on his record. It was really, like I said before, BIG was a really big fan of our voices, he was a really big fan of 112 performing, and he really just wanted us on the record. If you listen to that “Life After Death,” you would swear that we were in the studio with him all the time because dude shouted us out so many times on that record it was like “damn dude must really be feelin us!” Dude was a really good friend to us and I just hate that the world missed out on his evolution because of the fact that he had all that stuff jumping off. To this day we are going back forth saying who is the greatest rapper between him and Pac, and Jay-Z is in the mix now, but back then, you were either BIG or Pac. That was BIG’s second album, it wasn’t like he put out a bunch of material. For us to be debating on how dope this man was is just a testament. We were just happy to be a part of it. Anytime Puff wanted us to do a song with BIG, that was never even an issue.
YKIGS: What’s up next for Mike Keith?
Mike: Well, I am in the process, I’m really trying to figure out if I want to do another solo album and how I’m going to go about doing that. Because on the first album, I did it without any budgets, without any name producers, known producers, and I had to write all of that stuff myself. But I’m not in a relationship anymore, so I’m trying to figure out where the hell I’m going to get all the material! I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do as far as that is concerned. I would like to do another 112 album, I don’t know if that’s in the cards right now. I’m hopeful but at the same time I just don’t know. As of right now what I’m doing is a lot of vocal coaching for people that are in Atlanta who want to develop their talent. It amazes me the level of skill that is lacking with these younger people that are coming up nowadays. It’s like when you see these kids, and you tell them crescendo, they like “what the hell are you talking about?” *Laughs* It just shows not that they are ignorant to it, it’s just, they just…it does mean that they are ignorant. *Laughs* That’s just a negative word I really don’t like using. But that’s just what it boils down to, a lot of these kids don’t have any knowledge as far as where the music comes from and the basic skills that you need in order to have a long progressive career in the music industry. So I felt like it was my duty to educate these kids and educate whoever else want to learn as well. Basically, vocal coaching 101. Million Dollar Voice Inc., just to shout that out as well, if anyone who sees this interview would like vocal coaching and they live in Atlanta, we starting in Atlanta right now, we starting off small. If anybody in the Atlanta area, send me an e-mail and I’ll get back at you right away. Of course check me out on Twitter, Facebook, Mike Keith. I don’t ever give credit, I never big myself up as far as this is what I’ve heard, as far as all the four members of 112, vocally a lot of people say I’m the dopest. *Laughs* I thank a lot of people for that, but it’s not just because I’m naturally gifted like that, it’s because I do the things that are necessary to maintain that level of excellence. I do the vocal coaching, I love the vocal coaching, and I’m a natural teacher. I love teaching and just showing people the evolution. I’m always learning stuff, I’m always reading stuff and I just love sharing that type of information. I’m willing to do that, so the vocal coaching thing is definitely something I’m doing right now.
YKIGS: If I could just step back as a fan for a second, I really hope you find some way if not with the group, do that second solo album just get back in that studio, do music again. It’s just not the same, I love r&b, but it’s just not the same. We need people like you doing it, so I just hope you can find a way back.
Mike: I’m a firm believer in things being destiny, and God already having a plan for us, so I’m just riding this wave and seeing where he is taking me. I know I can do many things, but I was born to be a musician. So I know whatever plan he has more me, it has something to do with that. So I’m just sitting back and waiting to see what the move is, but you are right there is a lack of good music out there right now, and I hope that God willing, I hope he sees in his good graces that he allows me to do another solo album, allows 112 to do another album.